For 24 years I have been a teacher and a teacher matters. It’s not like any other job. It’s a vocation. This vocation grows on you like a second skin.
Within the first year as a teacher you realise, this is just not any ordinary job but an opportunity that changes lives. For this change, every time a teacher stands in front of the class s/he has to be confident, engaging, empathetic, emotionally matured, challenging, inspiring, motivating and have the answers ready; this in addition to preparing for the lecture. Additionally, a teacher has to constantly remember that the students look up to them and thus bear the responsibility of being a role model. There is no room for failure because they are dealing with young minds. What is further interesting is that all this goes on while the teacher is aware that access to information is now in the palm of the student’s hand.
I proudly write this because often I come across people who try to tell me that my profession is just a job and in the hierarchy of comparison with other professions, we are considered inconsequential.
Today, amidst the pandemic, the classrooms – our sacred ground – are empty. Every teacher and student reading this will know what I am talking about. This sacred ground could be even a dingy little room or as now, it’s virtual. But it’s the space of hope that witnesses an interaction that changes lives.
If I ask you to dig a little deeper into your consciousness you will find that you too have a favourite teacher who inspired you enough to pursue your further studies or career aspirations. Many of your favourite things from books to movies, emotional reactions to things about life, from travels to hobbies are often directly connected to your teacher who has mentored you without the formal mentor title.
My psychology teacher, Ms Ruth was such an influence and my favourite in college. She majorly motivated my career choice. It was the way she interacted with us in class that truly made her my favourite. She was always non-judgmental, very caring, made us feel special, and always got us to think and look at life beyond our normal scope. I still vividly recall her reaction to a girl that shirked when a butterfly was approaching her in class. Very calmly, Ms Ruth said to her: “Why are you scared? It’s paying you a compliment.” Her response melted my heart and it stayed with me all these years later. It is this relationship that cannot be compared.
I have been asked, ‘Don’t you get bored teaching the same subject for 20 odd years? My answer is always a big ‘No’.
I am lucky to be a teacher. For me, it’s my job that allows me to enter a secret chamber where the fountain of youth flows and you can drink from it and nourish your soul and in your mind, you can choose to never grow old. In this secret chamber, you can keep creating, evolving, and it never gets dull. Every year you get a fresh batch of young minds waiting to transform, feel special, and change the world.
Every year the teacher knows the challenges will be different and the lessons new. My personal experience as a teacher has taught me that even the dullest student can surprise you and sometimes the brightest student too; that youth is a fragile time, but the frailty is equally powerful to mould and change. Sometimes all you need to do is care.
Words are precious and they can either break you or make you. The challenge in teaching is not about the delivery of content or getting students to learn but rather getting them excited about the content enough so that they ask questions and learn to look at themselves a little better. Critical thinking is a skill that can get you through even the toughest of situation.
Learning is best in a fun environment. It’s not about pleasing another but pushing the student’s boundaries so that they discover the scientist, writer, or the next inventor within themselves.
Each of you reading this has had a teacher who has influenced you. If you can read write, add, subtract and think creatively then you too had a team of teachers who have worked together to make you the person you have become.
When someone tells me that being a teacher requires little effort, I can’t help but laugh. Because being a teacher is not a joke. It matters to society at large.
The most satisfying aspect of being a teacher is receiving that phone call, sometimes even 20 years later, from a student telling you that you changed their lives for the better. I feel pride and remind myself again why I continue teaching. So on Teachers’ Day, make that phone call to your teacher and tell them that they matter. Happy Teachers’ Day to all the wonderful teachers reading this.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)